I arrive late to my own funeral. The eulogy is well under way, making it easier to slink along the edges of the cemetery. I step into the shade of a nearby mausoleum and watch the small crowd gathered around my grave with mixed feelings. On the one hand I feel shame for leaving some of my closest friends to mourn my loss. On the other, disappointment because there had been a bigger turn-out the first time I had died. Of course the ex-wife didn’t bother showing up for either.
I don’t really have much of a plan. Just showed up to keep an eye on the funeral in hopes of spotting my killer. The weather refuses to cooperate. It should be overcast and soggy like funerals in the movies. You know, a steady downpour of rain, tears, and dark grief. But this isn’t the movies. This is real life, and real life enjoys its little ironies. My funeral is sunny, with a slight breeze cutting through the headstones. Here in the gray shadows of the mausoleum I can feel none of the heat, only the chill of the wind.
Leaning against the cool stone I watch as the service comes to a close. The preacher finishes the prayer, closes his bible, and then moves away from the head of the grave. The casket, my casket, sinks slowly into the dark earth and the mourners begin their march toward waiting cars.
As the crowd moves away I have a better view of the cemetery grounds. And there he is, Detective Pederson, standing in the shade of a nearby birch tree. A cigarette hangs from his lip, the smoke curling around his cap before being whisked away on the breeze. The tail of his coat flaps in the wind like the cape of some cartoon superhero. But this man is no hero, just another cop on the take come to make sure the job was done. I’m certain of it. The two of us had history back in my days on the force. When IA began investigating me, Pederson had been right there at my throat as well. His constant moaning had been the straw broke the board’s back. I was off the force before IA even wrapped up the investigation.
I stand a little straighter, my fists clench, and my jaw set so tight my eyes hurt. My gut’s screaming at me to stomp over and push Pederson’s teeth down his throat, but a good cop—even an ex-cop like me—knows when to ignore his instincts and let his brain work it out. If I want to catch the trigger-man I have to do the smart thing. Tailing Pederson will lead me to the guy that fired the shots. Then I could let my gut have its way.
Pederson stiffens and looks my way. His eyes squint as he struggles to penetrate the shadows. I stare right back. Let him see his shooter had fouled the job. Then he flicks the cigarette away and smiles that crooked smile of his. With a shake of his head and a tip of his cap, he turns and walks away. My mind wonders at that but my gut gets it, and this time I have to go with it.
“He didn’t do it.”
Martin, behind me. We had been partners for years before I was kicked off the force. He is my closest friend and, for a while, had been my brother-in-law. If Martin knows I’m not dead then so does Lauren.
“If you’re here then who’s in the box?” he asks.
I shrug, head for my car. I have no idea who is buried in my place. I hadn’t thought to ask. Porkpie had listened to my situation and what was needed, then handled the details himself. As long as we’ve worked together he has always come through for me. As a fixer he’s one of the best. The fact he’s mute adds to his charm.
Meanwhile, with Pederson off the list, I was back at square one. I wasn’t sure what my next move should be. There are contacts I can tap but with only vague hunches I really didn’t know the questions to ask. Snitches rarely spell it out; you got to work them, lead them where they want to be. If you don’t have the Once upon a time you’ll play hell finding the Happily ever after.
“If Pederson didn’t put the hit out, then who?” I ask aloud, mostly for my own benefit. If Martin decides to roll with it, well, so much the better.
“Have you talked to Lauren lately?”
Lauren? “No. I assume she’s okay. She hasn’t called to bust me about alimony.” I slow, letting Martin move up alongside me. “Since you’re here, you got any leads on who tried to kill me? Who’s handling the case?”
“Nobody’s handling it. It’s a cold case. You were mugged and there’s no leads,” he says. “You should’ve checked on Lauren. She’s–”
I stop, grab Martin’s arm and swing him round to face me. “Forget about Lauren! What do you mean there’s no leads?”
He snatches his arm from my grip and shoves me back. I stumble, nearly fall, but catch my balance at the last second. Martin moves in, his arms held outward, his body bowed forward. When did he draw the gun?
“Yeah, I called it in,” Martin says. “I found you dead in an alley. Two bullets in your back and your wallet gone. You don’t remember?”
And it hits me like a punch in the chops. I grab my head, double over, as images slam through my brain; rapid-fire like a bad movie.
Drinking. Martin. The clock strikes two and we’re on the street. BAM! BAM! Two shots and I’m falling forward, to my knees, into darkness. No, not darkness; nothingness. Sights, sounds, sensations, all gone. My body lies cold on the morgue slab. Then, an eye-watering glare of light and I’m sitting up, cold and naked. Alive again.
I’m not really alive, but I’m not dead either. Let’s just say I’m hard to kill and leave it at that. But, as before, there’s always that gap of time my brain refuses to acknowledge.
The pain eases, recedes to nothing. I look down at my hands, touch my face. No feeling. No heat, no breeze, nothing but the cold. And now I know.
“You son of a bitch. You killed me.”
I lunge forward. Martin expects it and steps back enough to throw me off balance. The weight of the gun comes down against the side of my head. There’s little pain but it’s enough to send me sprawling to the grass. I look up to find Martin standing over me, his gun aiming at my head. The gun doesn’t concern me. Martin’s motive, on the other hand.
“Because of my sister. Lauren was crushed the first time you died. But you came back and things got better. Then, it became clear you weren’t you. Internal Affairs brought you up on charges. But Lauren pushed through it. Day by day she made it. And when, finally, you were cleared, she smiled. That smile lit up her whole face. She had made it out the other side of her grief.
“But you got canned and skipped out. Why? What gives you the right to throw all that hurt back in her face? You walked away clean, left the rest of us stained.”
“I’m sorry, Martin. Staying with Lauren after I returned had been a mistake. I wasn’t the same person,” I say. “I still don’t understand what I am. Now put the gun away. We both know it won’t do any real good.”
“Yes, it will,” Martin says. “This time I’ve done my research. But don’t worry, it won’t hurt. You’re already dead, remember? I’m just here to finish the job.”
Martin smiles, snakes his finger through the guard, and pulls the trigger.
The iron bullet crashes into my brain. He’s wrong. It does hurt, like hellfire searing the bone beneath my flesh. But only for a second and then the sudden light returns and I’m floating free, looking down at my dead body.